Categories: MarketingSocialMedia

Is Facebook Hijackijng Net Neutrality In India?

Indian Facebook users logging into Facebook today will be faced with a pre-written form ready to be sent to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) asking the government agency to give its support to Facebook’s Free Basics initiative.

Part of Zuckerkberg’s Internet.org program, Free Basics aims to provide citizens in India with services such as search, Wikipedia, weather and news updates for free from their mobile devices.

Save Free Basics

The already-filled-out email to TRAI is called “Act Now To Save Free Basics In India,” and reads as such:

“Free Basics gives people access to vital services, such as communication, healthcare, education, job listings and farming information—all without data charges. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help with getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile networks.
“However, Free Basics is in danger in India. A small, vocal group of critics are lobbying to have Free Basics banned on the basis of net neutrality. Instead of giving people access to some basic Internet services for free, they demand that people pay equally to access all Internet services, even if that means 1 billion people can’t afford to access any services.”

But the contentious email already has some opponents, who state that the lobbying will undermine net neutrality in India.

This is because, whilst humanitarian as it sounds, by providing these free services to web users, Facebook will be directing the flow of traffic through its services to preferred partners, whilst other websites and services who don’t appear on Free Basics miss out on some of India’s 130 million Facebook users.

The email to TRAI, which users just have to hit a send button on, continues:

“To the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, I support digital equality for India. Free Basics provides free access to essential internet services like communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and more. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile operators. With one billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people. I support Free Basics – and digital equality for India. Thank you.”

TechWeekEurope has contacted Facebook for comment.

It was last week in India when TRAI issued a guide paper on differential pricing for data services. The paper asked whether or not telcos in the subcontinent should have different pricing for being able to access different websites and apps.

In an online petition started in May, web activists lashed out against Facebook’s Internet’org plans. The petition, signed by several high profile organisations including the US’ The Media Consortium and Free Press Unlimited, said: “We are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs.

“In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”

It was last week in India when TRAI issued a guide paper on differential pricing for data services. The paper asked whether or not telcos in the subcontinent should have different pricing for being able to access different websites and apps.

Opponents

In an online petition started in May, web activists lashed out against Facebook’s Internet.org plans. The petition, signed by several high profile organisations including the US’ The Media Consortium and Free Press Unlimited, said: “We are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs.

“In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”

Free Basics opponents (opponents to its current form anyway) are asking Indian Facebook users to change the text of the pre-written email read this.

But Facebook disagrees. A company spokesperson told the Huffington Post this week: “Hundreds of millions of people in India use the Internet every day and understand the benefits it can bring. This campaign gives people the opportunity to support digital equality in India.

“It lets people speak in support of the one billion people in India who remain unconnected, and lets them participate in the public debate that is being held by The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on differential pricing for data services. And it gives them the opportunity to support Free Basics, which is proven to bring more people online and accelerate full internet adoption.”

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Ben Sullivan

Ben covers web and technology giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft and their impact on the cloud computing industry, whilst also writing about data centre players and their increasing importance in Europe. He also covers future technologies such as drones, aerospace, science, and the effect of technology on the environment.

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